Last week I bought three pears because they smelled really good and it seemed like a good idea. I figured I could slice them up and give them to my daughter for her afternoon snacks. It turned out this was an error on my part: she would not eat the sliced pear, and the whole enterprise began to look like a bust. Saturday, it snowed like crazy, and I noticed the sad sliced pear in a little plastic tub in the fridge, and the two starting-to-look sad pears on the counter, and I thought, “I will bake a pear cake.”
Somewhere I have a recipe for a chocolate pear cake, which I know I’ve made and liked, but I couldn’t remember where it was, so I decided to be lazy and just do a Google search for a pear cake recipe that sounded plausible. The first thing I landed on was a recipe from a blog that I guess All Food People already follow, by a woman named Mimi Thorisson. Ms. Thorisson’s blog, Manger, is very elegant, just like her, and as my friend Bakerina put it, “She’s like the perfect goddess in Laurie Colwin’s chapter on Kitchen Horrors.” To use a phrase my husband employs now and then, She is the opposite of us.
But the cake recipe looked decent. So I made it, with one major alteration to the ingredients, and one total overhaul regarding cooking time, because it appears that Ms. Thorisson’s oven is some kind of magical French oven that will bake cakes in literally half the time an American oven will take to achieve the same end.
Ms. Thorisson’s recipe calls for:
3 ‘very’ ripe pears – peeled & cut into chunks
150 g/ 1 & 1/4 cup plain flour, sifted
150 g/ 3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
30 g/ 1/4 cup corn flour (corn starch)
1 pinch salt
90 g/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp butter (slightly melted)
Icing sugar (to sprinkle/ decorate on cake)
The technique is simple. In a mixer, you combine the eggs and the sugar and whip them until they’re light. In a separate bowl, you’ve whisked together the other dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cornstarch). In a small bowl, you’ve nuked your butter so that it’s just starting to melt. You add the flour mixture to the eggs, whip it to combine, and then add the butter last. It’s a little backwards seeming, compared to other cakes (where you’d normally cream the butter and sugar together and then add the eggs and then add the flour last) but whatever; it works fine. I had a feeling this cake would be too plain as is, and so I added to the flour bowl about a teaspoon of vanilla powder; I am very glad I did, because the cake wouldn’t have tasted like much without it.
Once you have your batter set up, you scrape it into a prepared cake pan (a 9″ cake pan buttered lightly and lined with a round of parchment) and lay atop the batter chunks of very soft fresh pear. (I would not recommend using canned pear with this.) Ms. Thorisson advises us to bake the cake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees; at the 30-minute mark, I decided Ms. Thorisson is on drugs, because the cake was nowhere near done. In the end, I baked the cake for just over an hour — maybe an hour and seven minutes. This is a pretty significant difference, and I don’t know how it never gets noted at Manger. (It is mentioned in one of the comments, but Ms. Thorisson hasn’t altered her instructions at all, which is not great.)
The cake that results – if you add the vanilla and bake for the proper length of time — is delicious. It is not very fancy looking, the way I made it; it could look fancier, if you made the effort to place the pears more delicately. It does get dressed up significantly if you sprinkle some powdered sugar on top of the cake, as she suggests. In fact, when I served the cake to a dinner guest, he assumed it was a store-bought cake, and was astonished that I’d made it myself.
My husband made whipped cream to serve with the cake, and this was very nice indeed; after the fact, we realized that it would have been a nice touch to whip a teaspoon or so of pear eau-de-vie in with the cream. Not enough to flavor it heavily, mind you, just enough to give the cream a touch of perfume. My daughter, who, we’ve learned, is no fan of pears, announced as she ate the cake that I had taken her least favorite fruit (who knew?) and “transformed” it into one of her top five fruits. So this was worth doing.
But bake the cake for an hour, people.
If you want to see the original recipe, and comments, please go here: http://mimithorisson.com/2012/04/24/italian-pear-cake/
or ignore the link, and know that I’ve given you everything you need to know, minus feeling guilty that you are not as perfect as Mimi Thorisson.